I’m Dreaming of a White (Or Red, or Rosé) Christmas: a Holiday Hostess Wine Guide


It’s that time of year where your social calendar fills up with office parties, drinks with friends, and other social gatherings.  Emily Post will always tell you to never show up to a party empty handed.  Giving a hostess gift is just good manners, but it doesn’t have to be stressful.  If you search the internet there are tons of websites prompting ideas for unique hostess presents, but I think there’s really no point in sniffing every single candle at Yankee Candles to pick the right one for your friend…it is literally not worth the headache.  Everyone likes booze, and there is no such thing as having too many bottles of vino hanging around at a party.  So be a good friend this holiday season: bring a bottle of wine, show up 15 minutes after the party starts…oh, and look fantastic.

Here are some of my favorite wines to gift this year for any budget:

$10 – $20 Wines:

Toso Cava

Cava is the new champagne.  It hails from Spain, while the flavor profiles are often very similar, cava tends to be a little lower in price.  This particular bottle of sparkling has tons of crisp, bright flavors for the right price!

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier

Pine Ridge is a recognizable name that is sure to impress, and the varietals are a departure from the norm, which will set your gift apart from the others.  The Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend goes great with food, and is it a sure-fire party pleaser!

Petite Petite Syrah

This is one of the first red wines that I fell in love with.  It’s an 85% Petit Syrah blend that offers a full bodied red with low tannins, rich flavor, and lingering finish.  And while I know you’re not supposed to judge a wine by it’s label, but this one is pretty great and is sure to stand out!

Alma Negra Brut Rosé

I can’t say enough good things about all of the Alma Negra wines.  Their red blend is jammy and delicious, but their brut rosé stands out as the perfect celebratory gift.  The flavors are to die for:  fresh strawberry, tart raspberry, and who doesn’t love pink bubbles in their glass?!

$30 – $50 wines:

Rombauer Chardonnay

Rombauer is another known name, and brings a certain cache when it comes to hostess gifts.  

Your friend who is a chardonnay lover is going to find that this wine hits every note: peach and melon, vanilla and toasted nuts.  It’s a classic California, buttery chardonnay.  

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs

This is probably my favorite champagne.  We drank this at our wedding, (see photo of the classiest bride below) and it’s my favorite special occasion bottle of bubbles.  The flavors of crisp green apple shine, it’s dry and vibrant.  This wine absolutely stands up to some of the more popular champagne names, and offers an incredible product at an even better value.


Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon

Is there anything better than a big, bold, California cab?  Especially in the winter, this wine warms your soul.  You can taste every bit of the California soil in this wine, and I love it:  eucalyptus, menthol, cedar, and dark fruits.  This wine is made in the famous Stags Leap District, and will make a memorable and very special holiday hostess gift.

$75 – $100 wines:

Taittinger Champagne

If you show up to a party with a bottle of Taittinger, well then, the party has really begun.  This champagne is so rich and creamy.  Unlike the fruitiness of the Schramsberg,  Taittinger wine delivers flavors of vanilla and brioche, it’s earthy and robust.  It’s delicious and fancy, which is exactly why champagne is my drink of choice.

Jarvis Cabernet Franc

Jarvis is a famous name amongst wine lovers, and the person who gets this wine as a gift will probably love you forever.  This wine is deep and oaky, with dark red fruits and hints of baking spice.  The richness is sure to make anyone’s holiday merry and bright, and you’ll be a permanent fixture on the gift receiver’s “nice list


You Eat, I Eat, Jack

It finally happened, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life premiered and I, like so many others, waited with bated breath.  Just like the Girls themselves, I knew that no binge watching TV session could possibly take place without copious snacks in tow.   They couldn’t be just any old snacks,  these snacks must be Gilmore approved, or “Lorelaied.”  So, I went through the wonderful and sometimes painstaking task of re-watching all 153 episodes to stir up some Sookie-style food inspiration.   It would’ve been very easy to take inspiration from the Master Carry-Out Orderer herself and call out for pizza and Chinese food, but instead I decided to cook up some wonderful treats that are sprinkled throughout the season.

The series begins with Lorelai begging for coffee, and my mornings are often quite similar.  As once described in the show, “I’ll drink it, shoot it, eat it, snort it.  Whatevimg_5956er form it’s in.”  I personally take my coffee with just a little bit of milk, but given that I was binging the day after Thanksgiving and it’s officially acceptable to start celebrating Christmas, I opted to try the famous Westin’s Candy Cane coffee.  I had plans to heat up some milk on the stove with a hint of peppermint extract, but as I was browsing through Whole Foods I noticed a product by SO Delicious called Mint Chocolate Coconut Milk and I thought to myself “Hey!  This looks just disgusting enough to be good!”…But it wasn’t.  It was disgusting, but Westin’s coffee didn’t sound that great either.  In fairness, the coconut milk itself wasn’t bad, but mixed with the coffee, it was less than savory. Instead I went back to old faithful, and drank my coffee the way god intended, with no striped candy flavor involved.

For breakfast we made Rory’s going-off-to-college meal of choice:  Sausage, wrapped in a pancake, tied with a piece of bacon.  First of all…it was delicious.  Second of all…it was ridiculous.  Here’s how it went down:

For the pancakes, I used Martha Stewart’s Buttermilk Pancake recipe because buttermilk makes everything better.  I also added a little bit of lemon zest to the batter; brightens it up and gives me the illusion of health.  I poured the pancake batter into the pan in long strips for optimum rolling, and not too much bulk.  I selected some delicious turkey sausage links from Whole Foods, gave them a nice sear in a cast iron skillet, then once cooked through I cut them in quarters, lengthwise, (or hot dog style, if you can remember back to elementary school.)  For the bacon, I chose a nice, thick cut, peppered bacon and baked them in the oven at 375 degrees for 12 minutes.  The bacon was nice and crispy, but not too crispy; I still had to tie it in a knot, after all!


Once all the components were prepared, it was time to get rolling.   Rolling the pancakes around the bacon was easy enough.  Tying the bacon was a ridiculous task, and wasn’t all that successful.  When Luke prepped this breakfast for Rory, I would imagine he had the foresight to buy toothpicks ahead of time…me, not so much.  All in all, the meal was messy and absurd, but absolutely delicious.  The perfect, not at all practical, Gilmore inspired breakfast to go!

Ridiculous looking, delicious tasting!

The heavy breakfast sent me into a food coma somewhere around the 3rd episode.  The extremely lengthy and unnecessary musical number during Summer didn’t help either.  (Seriously, what the hell was that?!)  Somewhere around the appropriate lunch time, I fell into a deep sleep where I too got confused about the Real Paul Anka and the dog Paul Anka….that was a doozy.  

Tim woke me up around 3:00 p.m., I suspect the maple syrup high had worn off.  I woke up, had another cup of coffee and screamed “Good Morning Vietnam” in my best Paris Gellar voice.  It was time to get back to cookin!

For my late lunch/early dinner, I chose to make Pasta a la Sookie, which is just “rich people” mac and cheese.  In season 4, Episode 3 titled “The Hobbit, the sofa, and Digger Stiles”  Lorelai and Sookie cater a kids’ birthday party, but Sookie doesn’t exactly know how to cater to kids.  Instead of making kid friendly mac and cheese, she makes one with a jalapeno and Chipotle cream sauce.  In spite of it being an unappetizing green color for the kids, it sounded divine – so I decided to give it a whirl.

Mac and Cheese with a Jalapeno Chipotle Cream Sauce


  • 1 pound dry shell shaped pasta
  • 3 tbsp. Unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp. Flour
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 4 cups shredded cheese
  • 4 jalapenos, seeded
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup cilantro, plus garnish
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs (optional)

For chipotle sauce:

  • 1 tbsp. Brown Sugar
  • 1 tbsp. Chipotle Pepper
  • ½  tbsp. Cumin
  • ½  tbsp. Mustard powder
  • ½ tbsp. Paprika
  • ½ tbsp. Salt
  • Bring salted water to boil, add pasta and cook to specifications on box
  • In the meantime, combine chipotle dry ingredients in bowl,  and set aside.
  • Seed jalapenos and combine, jalapeno, olive oil and cilantro in blender.  Pulse until broken down into medium sized chunks
  • Once pasta is cooked, drain and set aside
  • In medium sized saucepan add butter and flour, whisk until combined
  • Whisk in chipotle dry ingredients until just combined
  • Whisk in broth, cream, milk, and water.  Let simmer, but not boil.
  • Add in cheese blend and stir until smooth consistency
  • Stir in jalapeno blended sauce until combined.
  • In large bowl, add pasta and pour cheese mixture.  Stir well.
  • Grease a casserole dish, or other baking dish.  (remember that time I told you how I use my Le Creuset for everything…this would be yet another instance.)
  • Sprinkle bread crumbs on top
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes
  • Top with Cilantro to garnish

Unlike Sookie’s dish, mine didn’t turn out green.  I think I would’ve had to use about 6 more jalapenos for that, in which case it would’ve been way too spicy.  Instead you have a img_5961
deep yellow baked mac and cheese with a vegetal spice from the peppers and a deep smoky spice from the chipotle blend.  It was rich and ooey and gooey and spicy in all the right ways, and totally not appropriate for kids…just how I like!

Feeling full yet?  I certainly was.  I had made it to the final Fall episode, and around the time Lorelai was “doing” Wild,  (I am totally the book too, btw) I was ready to whip up the fourth and final course, and yes, I considered coffee a course.

I journeyed back in my (invisible) rickshaw to Rory and Lorelai’s (imaginary) trip to Asia and enjoyed some delicious dessert sushi.  

I must admit, I was skeptical about how some of the flavors Lorelai proposed would work together.   Butterfinger, Junior Mint, Chocolate Chip, and Jujubes…?  No, just no.  Forget about the fact that I couldn’t even find jujubes in the stores, there is no way that butterfingers and junior mints work together.  I wasn’t brave enough to find out, but I did try the other two combinations mentioned in the show.  img_5960The first,  Tootsie Roll, marshmallow, Twizzler sushi…it was interesting to say the least.  I picked cherry pull and peel Twizzlers because neither Tim nor I like the strawberry flavor.  So, I rolled out the Tootsie Roll with a rolling pin, and laid the marshmallow on, carefully wrapping the tootsie roll around the little clouds.   Then wrapped the Twizzlers around that.  It was…interesting…definitely chewy.  The Tootsie roll flavor was prominent and I wasn’t a fan…Tim ate the rest.  That’s what he’s here for.  

Next we tried the Oreo, Red Hot Sashimi.  This I liked.  It was spicy and sweet, chocolatey   and crunchy.  The combination was delightful , I highly recommend.  You simply twist off the top part of the Oreo and place a few red hots on top – it was yummy and low maintenance.  I considered, just for a second making a pie crust out of the unused Oreo Tops, (think Sookie’s muffin bottom pie)  but I think it’s safe to say that I ate more than my fair share that day.

That does it folks, four courses of binge-worthy snacks to go with our binge watching.  We laughed, we cried, we cried some more, but unlike Rory – the only thing I ended up pregnant with, was a food baby!


Six Superficial Things I am Thankful For: A Gift Guide

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is here already.  It’s a time to take stock of the wonderful things that we are all lucky enough to have in life.  It’s also a great time to do a few of my favorite things: eat, drink, and shop!  I have never personally participated in Black Friday shopping, in part because I’ve heard it involves pushing and shoving, but mostly because it requires getting up early, and I’m a gal who likes my sleep.  I much prefer Small Business Saturdays, and Cyber Monday (shopping in your underwear – sign me up!)

All the holiday shopping excitement is not meant to overshadow the true meaning of Thanksgiving,  but who wants to read about how lucky I am to have such a wonderful and supportive husband, great family, good friends, my health…blah blah blah?!  Instead, this week’s Ciao Vella installment will list the Six Superficial Things I am thankful for this year, and perhaps it will help you find the perfect present for a person in your life that YOU are thankful for.  Here is my holiday gift guide:


In my life, coffee is absolutely essential.  Coffee helps me do the thinking, and the writing, and the being nice to people.  But coffee is not just fuel; like a good wine, I think it should be sniffed, and savored.  (Yes, I am that freak in the coffee shop saying “ooo, don’t you smell the blueberry.”  Feel free to judge me.)  Tim really turned me onto coimg_5840ffee.  He is a former barista, and can pick up on the nuance of flavor.  When we make coffee at home it’s like walking into a mad scientists’ lab with scales and beakers.   We are also lucky enough to live right down the street from one of the coolest coffee shops that roasts their own beans, Press.

If you’re thinking about a gift for the coffee drinker in your life, consider stopping at Press and picking up a pound of their own Wood Burl Coffee, or another piece of their awesome merchandise.  If you’re not a Daytonian, then there are a lot of great coffee shops around the country where you can buy a coffee subscription.  Last year, we were traveling through Denver and Tim absolutely flipped for a place called Boxcar Coffee.   After our trip, I purchased Tim a 3-month coffee subscription, where we got a pound of their coffee every month delivered right to our door.   It was the gift that kept on giving…and I selfishly reaped the benefits!

Red Lipstick

Red lipstick is a classic, it always looks good and automatically upgrades an ensemble.  I’ve also found that it’s a solution to all of life’s problems.  Bad hair day?  Red lipstick!  Feeling grumpy?  Red lipstick!  Fat and bloated?  Red lipstick!  I’ve tried a lot of lipsticks and have found that no two lipsticks are created equal.  You might find the perfect hue, but it seeps into those ever present lines around your mouth.  Or you find the right creamy texture, but the red is just not right.  My two favorite red lipstick brands are:  

ModelCo. Party Proof Lipsticks – My perfect red shade is called Red Velvet – but any and all of their available colors are perfection, from a pouty pink, to a matte nude.   These lipsticks are rich and creamy, it moisturizes your lips, never cakes or clumps, and stays on all day.  

TonyMoly Tony Tint Delight – My favorite shade is #2 Red.  This is a lip stain that goes on light as a feather and lasts.  This was my favorite lipstick when I was a bartender because I was talking all night long, tasting drinks, and sweating – yet when I looked in the mirror after a 10 hour shift, my lipstick was in perfect shape with nary a smudge in sight.  


I live in my bathrobe.  The minute I walk in the door after a long day of work, it goes on.  I’ve never been one for pants, I’m sure many girls can relate.  I have a bathrobe for every season and there is nothing I love more than snuggling up in a cozy bathrobe, with a big ole glass of red wine (that’ll come later on the list), during the chilly winter months.  

This year, there is only one thing on my Christmas list – who am I kidding, my Christmas list is really really long – let me clarify: the thing I want THE MOST is an Ugg Bathrobe.  I’ve gone into stores, stroked the soft material, stared longingly, subtly hinted (ha!) to Tim, and coveted this one bathrobe.   It has pockets for God’s sake.  It’s lined with the softest fleece, it’s the perfect length, without too much bulky material, and I’ve got to have it…and I bettcha one of your loved ones has to have it too.

Wine – and the glass it goes in

We already know my love of champagne, and I don’t think I need to explain why wines of all kinds are the best way to ring in the holiday season.   A bottle of wine makes the perfect hostess gift (which I’ll cover next month,) but the importance of the wine glass is not to be overlooked.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you realize you’re turning into your mother?  Well, mine happened recently while Tim and I were trying to decide where to go out for dinner.  He threw out a suggestion and I replied:  “No, I don’t want to go there, they have really bad wine glasses.”  “I married my mother-in-law.” He replied dryly.   Ok, so it’s a little high maintenance to rule out a restaurant over their glassware, but I think my mom is onto something.  Wine glasses serve a purpose, not just to hold the liquid, but to enhance the experience.   I’m sorry, but you simply can’t properly sniff the bouquet of a zinfandel out of a cheap wine glass from Walmart – you just can’t!!!!img_3998

As a wedding gift one of our friends got us a set of
Riedel Vinum XL wine glasses.  They are as big as your face, no joke: one glass holds an entire bottle.   They are the best wine glasses ever and I don’t think I could possibly drink from anything else.  It’s like decanting a single glass, there is so much room to swirl and spin – just watch your pour – 6 ounces looks like nothing!  It’s the perfect gift for the oenophile on your list!

Le Creuset

I don’t know what more I can say other than since purchasing my Le Creuset dutch oven, I haven’t used another pan.  I’m not exaggerating.  I use it for everything, I fry eggs in it, I make soups, I make pasta, I caramelize onions…I fold my laundry it in, I do my taxes in it…it holds me at night.  Ok – I’ve gotten off track.  

It is legitimately the most versatile cooking vessel I own, and my life is better for it.  They are a little pricey, but I’m not sure there is any better way to show you love someone than to gift them a Le Creuset dutch oven.   The colors are beautiful and classic, and the gift will last a lifetime.  I could go on forever…I could write mine a sonnet…I’m going to stop now before I start weeping.

Fur Coat or Vest

Last year at Christmas,  my mother gave me one of my grandmother’s minks.  It’s a stunning snow white color, three quarter length sleeves, and her initials carefully stitched on the inside.  It was one of the most special, thoughtful, and fabulous gifts I have ever been given.  I found myself opening up our coat closet in the middle of a summer heat wave willing snow to fall, just so I could wear this beautiful fur.  I don’t expect everyone to give the gift of a family heirloom this year, but luckily fur is in, (and always will be – sorry PETA) and there are tons of great faux fur coat options available today.  

A fur coat or vest is the best way to stay warm and add a little glamour to an outfit.  The Oasis Animal Print coat from ASOS is a great everyday winter coat, since leopard print can and should definitely be a staple in any glamour gal’s wardrobe.  Perhaps you want something slightly more understated, in which case a faux fur vest in a neutral color is the way to go.   This faux from Hinge is the perfect versatile and cozy fur.  

So there you have it, Six Superfluous and Superficial things that I am thankful for this year.  I hope everyone has a very happy and safe holiday, and remember, try to be nice when shoving your neighbor at Target!


Colonel Mustard, in the Kitchen, with a Beer


Studies have shown that a person’s taste buds change every 5 to 7 years, which explains why one day I woke up and suddenly thought that brussel sprouts were the best thing I have ever tasted.  This also explains why in the past few years I discovered the joy and wonder of mustard.  When I was little I thought mustard was disgusting; bright yellow and tangy, I couldn’t understand why anyone would dredge their burger with something so repulsive.  Ketchup was King, and it wasn’t going anywhere.  

That was until I spent a summer studying in Paris.  I was having lunch at an outdoor cafe, the waiter dropped off my food and said in the stereotypical superior way; “Let me guess, you’d like some Ketchup with your fries.”  I nodded, embarrassed and I SWEAR he muttered “Stupid Americannnnes” as he presented the red bottle of Heinz to the table.  As I smacked the sides of the bottle and the ketchup glopped onto my plate, I looked around me and noticed the effortlessly chic Parisians eating their frites with a fork, not a bit of ketchup in sight.   Being the Francophile that I am, I immediately put down the ketchup, stopped the snooty waiter, and asked for a bottle of the finest Dijon.  If mustard meant that I was cool, sophisticated, and could possibly pass for a Frenchie, then mustard was to become my new thing.  My love and adoration for mustard has stayed, in spite of my bitter realization that I am never going to be as fabulous as the ladies of Paris, no matter how hard I try.

Mustard is magical, it makes incredible salad dressings, marinades, and dips.  But it also has healing properties, it helps with inflammation, and even promotes hair growth.  The ancient Egyptians would bring mustard seeds to the tomb, as it was considered a symbol of good fortune.  If it’s good enough for King Tut, amiright?!

My fridge is normally stocked with at least a few kinds of mustard, a good dijon, a nice spicy brown mustard, and yes even the bright yellow ballpark mustard (it’s cheap, but damn it’s delicious.)  I’ve been on a quest for the best mustard out there, so I decided to gather up as many stone ground, brown mustards as possible and rate them until a clear winner was found.  I went to a speciality grocery store known to many South West Ohioans as a foodie (ugh, I hate that word) paradise:  Jungle Jim’s.  I scoured their condiment section, and selected 8 out of about 300 mustards.  Last night, with the help of Tim and two of my close (and well-palated) friends, we went through the painstaking task of tasting, and tasting, and tasting each mustard in the noble quest of selecting the best stone ground mustard out there.


We got real serious about it, I created a rating system based on four categories:  Flavor, Heat Level, Spreadability, and Overall Appeal, and judged them all on a scale from 1-5.  I made soft pretzels (which I will never do again), we drank a few delicious wheat beers*, and we sat in judgement, which is basically my favorite thing to do.  I could make it an Olympic sport.


I’m not sure if the beer is to blame, or if the mustards we were judging were all just too good, but we couldn’t pick just one winner.  Our reigning champs are….drumroll please:  Inglehoffer Original Stone Ground Mustard, and Brucken Dusseldorf Mustard.

The Inglehoffer was nice and seedy, an appropriate heat level with the right amount of tang, and a great depth of flavor, scored fives across the board (except for Tim, who is very keen on giving ½ points…is that a guy thing?)  This mustard would make a kick ass marinade.  

The Brucken was HOT…I mean, really hot, but it really complimented the doughy pretzel and my mouth watered just thinking pairing it with a brat.  My friend Marysa said it was hot, but in a sexy way, which totally makes sense to me.


So, I’ll admit, our scoring wasn’t an exact science, but it was fun, and now my fridge is stocked with mustards to use every which way…I am currently googling a mustard marinade for pork chops, and how to pack mustard seeds into a sarcophagus.

*We enjoyed Rhinegeist’s Hugh Hefe Hefeweizen, and Troegs DreamWeaver wheat beer.  These beers were the perfect pairing for the spicy, tangy mustards and doughy sweet soft pretzels.   These are both light enough that they don’t overpower the mustard, but can still stand up to the kick.  Plus, neither of them have the overwhelming taste of banana!


Keep on Hoping

You won’t often find my political opinion on here.  Snarky and self deprecating are sort of my thing, but times like this, one must take pause from all the snark.  

Yesterday was a big election, one for the books, one with much at stake, and one that I, along with many others, took very seriously.  In the hours before the votes were counted, and all the wine was consumed, I found myself day-dreaming.  I was dreaming about that glass ceiling shattering, I was dreaming about my 10 year old niece, Jasmine, learning about this historic night in school and truly believing that she could do absolutely anything.  

20 years ago, when I was Jasmine’s age, my best friend and I would hang out in her basement and play, like so many little girls.  But Shannon and I weren’t playing wedding or happy housewives.  Shannon and I were forming clubs like TKOE (Take Kare of Our Earth…ok, so we couldn’t spell,) pretending to be directors making great plays, or editors of major magazines, and even playing president.  Shannon would pretend to be the first female president, and I would pretend to be her right-hand gal.  Last night before the polls closed, I texted Shannon (who may very well still be our first female president…seriously, she’s pretty badass) and recalled the way that we used to play, as hopeful and empowered young ladies.  We spent the rest of the night texting as we began to realize that our dreams, and the dreams of the little girls that we used to be, slipped away.  

Then we cried…and cried.  I cried myself to sleep.  Seriously, I haven’t done that since I found out that N’Sync wouldn’t be putting out another album.  This morning I woke up feeling despondent.  It still doesn’t feel real.  All that progress we have made over the last hundred years feels like it has slipped away completely, and I felt completely lost.  As I was waiting in line at the drive-through of a certain coffee shop, a quote from one of my favorite movies came into my head: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing.  And no good thing ever dies.”  It pulled me out of my slump momentarily as more and more cars pulled in behind me, needing caffeine and perhaps an emotional pick-me-up too.  With those beautiful words ringing in my ear, I decided to pass along the hope.  I paid for the woman’s coffee behind me, maybe she supported Trump, maybe she didn’t vote at all, or maybe she was feeling just like me.  And maybe buying her coffee encouraged her to buy the person’s coffee behind her, and so on and so on.  Maybe not…but I feel hopeful that I at least made her day a little better.  It made me think, these next 4 years will be a challenge, and maybe they will be a nightmare, but I promised myself this morning as I took my first sip of joe, that I will not lose hope.  I hope you all can do the same.


Election Night Nervous Eating

Election night is upon us and as a child raised to enjoy the democratic process, and as an adult who is always looking for an excuse to part-ay, I am thinking about having some friends over to watch history be made…or watch the world end, either one.

I love love love to entertain.   The whole reason we got this apartment is because it has a big open kitchen with an island, that is perfect for having friends over.  I am not the kind of gal who opens up a package of sharp cheddar and calls it a day.   No no, there is a spread involved, my friends.  I typically change up menus depending on the season, but there are two standards that I serve for any soiree.  The first is warmed up brie (yes, it’s as simple as it sounds.  If you can punch a ballot, you can heat up some brie.)  The second is my mom’s famous garlic pizza.  These make for the perfect, nervous eating, snacks.  

Here are your step by steps for the extremely simple, crowd pleasing bites.

Warm Brie:


  • Brie (duh) – the entire wheel.  I like La Bonne Vie – well priced, nice taste.
  • Honey
  • Seasonal fruits or nuts
  • Crackers


  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Line small cookie sheet with parchment paper, set brie on paper
  • Place in oven for 5-7 minutes (keep a watchful eye!  You can reduce or add time depending on how gooey you want the cheese.)
  • Once cheese is melted and bubbly, drizzle with honey, and top with whatever seasonal fruits and/or nuts you’d prefer

I love to use pears, raspberries, blueberries or almonds for my topping.   This is a great opportunity to play with what’s around during the season and always keeps it interesting.   On some occasions I’ve pretended that I was bouji and got some fancy crackers, but I always go back to Wheat Thins.  I love Wheat Thins.  Specifically the Reduced Fat Wheat Thins.  Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about them.  They are sturdy, delicious, and if I ever get trapped on a deserted island, I want a box of Reduced Fat Wheat Thins with me.  

Ok – now onto the piece de resistance… the Garlic Pizzas

Ingredients:Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

  • Frozen bread dough or pre-made pizza crust
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tsp Garlic powder
  • 2 tsp Dry oregano
  • 2 tbs Ricotta
  • 2 tbs pesto
  • 1 cup Italian cheese blend


  • Preheat oven to 425
  • Grease a rimmed cookie sheet
  • Spread defrosted dough onto cookie sheet
  • Spread minced garlic with hands across dough
  • Sprinkle garlic powder and oregano
  • With spatula spread ricotta and pesto
  • Sprinkle cheese blend across dough, cover from end to end
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes, until dough is golden brown

This is so easy and so versatile, you can seriously put any toppings you want on the pizza.  Don’t be afraid to get creative – however do be afraid to kiss anyone for the next 2 days.  Seriously, it is loaded with garlic.  One of the best things about this pizza is that you can make it ahead of time, cover with saran wrap and pop it in the oven right before guests come over.

So there you have it – some delightful dishes, ones that I plan to serve on election night and probably for every party I ever throw until the end of time….which might be next week, depending on the results.

Oh, and don’t forget to vote.


WWCTD – What Would College Tess Do?

I’ve been slow to post this week.  Around 5:00 on Sunday evening I got knocked on my ass with a sinus infection.  I spent 3 hours at an urgent care on Monday evening.  (By the way…if you want to see what’s wrong with the world, spend an evening in a minute clinic waiting room in the suburbs of Ohio.)   Anyhoo – I’ve been extremely boring this week as a result of my illness.  I’ve been lying on the couch day in and day out, drinking tea, watching chick flicks, and working my way through an entire box of Kleenex (the kind with aloe is a must.)   I haven’t changed from my favorite, old grubby tee shirt in 5 days, my hair is matted to my head…seriously, I am a vision.

On Saturday, before all of this snotty madness happened, one of my girlfriends from college said she was going to be in town and asked if I wanted to get together.  I was pumped!  Visions of College Tess danced through my head.  College Tess was – well, let’s just say – she was a bit of a hot mess.  A party girl in the truest sense, danced on tables, drank the night away, and was famous for a move called “Do splits behind the bar at Buffalo Wild Wings on Brown Street.”  Are you cringing while you read this?  Me too.  Ok so I’m not proud of my old self, but she was a lot of fun, and she certainly knew how to live it up.   Sinus Infection Tess could learn a thing or two from her.

College Tess: sucking back a gin and soda…classy.   P.S. Do you see that girl in the background judging me?  That’s ok, I judge me too.

These days it’s rare that one of my college friends comes into town.  As time passes after college, and everyone has gotten married/knocked up, the occasions to get together are becoming less frequent.  Part of me wants to knock back a few Advil, drag a comb through my knotted hair, throw on a pair of heels and do it up – College Tess style.  However, the sensible side of me is coaxing me back into bed with a tub of vicks vaporrub, a fluffy bathrobe, and she’s already cued up “Love Actually” on Netflix.   Sensible Tess is reminding me that I’m on antibiotics and I can’t drink, which is like my favorite hobby.  Plus, I haven’t graduated to the school of thought that you can still have fun without booze.   College Tess is saying “who the hell cares if you’re on amoxicillin, that just means you can’t have hard liquor – grab a glass of wine, girlfriend!”

I’ve got a few more hours to figure out which side will win this war:  The Angel on my shoulder, rattling my prescription bottle to lure me back to bed, or the Devil with the shot in one hand, and the other helping me onto the bar stool.  


Cacio e Pepto-Bismol

It’s one of life’s many known (and frankly, pretty obvious) rules; a lot like “no white after labor day,” or “beer before liquor”:  don’t try out a recipe for the first time at a dinner party.   It makes sense, img_3836right?  If you burn the casserole because you’ve never used your oven before, then your guests are going home hungry…not cool.  So what did I do? Obviously the opposite.

Last year I had a friend over for dinner, and because I thought my culinary skills were superior, I not only attempted a recipe for the first time, I attempted one of the hardest dishes ever:  cacio e pepe.  It’s only 3 ingredients, so how could it possibly go wrong?  Well…the answer is: lots of ways.  It’s the seemingly simple recipes that sneak up on you and ruin an evening.

I was working off of Bon Apetit’s recipe which calls for a thin pasta, unsalted butter, salt, pepper, and two different kinds of cheeses.   Essentially, you make the pasta, and then add in all the other ingredients quickly.  The end result is supposed to be a creamy, gooey, slightly spicy, and soul satisfying pasta dish.    The key to a successful Cacio e Pepe dish is all about your mise en place, (meaning everything in it’s place) all the ingredients prepped, grated, cracked and ready to go.  So once everything is in it’s place, and the pasta is cooked perfectly, you strain it (holding on to a few cups of warm pasta water), place it in a pan with melted butter and toasted black pepper, then slowly but surely stir in the cheese, and add in water every so often to create the creamy consistency.  The dish calls for preparedness and timing…two things I apparently don’t have…and if all else fails, you better hope you grow two extra sets of arms to stir, pour, grate, and one hand to hold onto a glass of wine to ease the pain.

What did I end up with for my poor husband and unsuspecting friend?  A huge brick of gloppy, peppered cheese that sat in our stomachs uncomfortably the rest of the night.   Everyone was nice enough about it, they smiled and chewed…and chewed…and chewed.   I drowned my sorrows with a glass of Chianti the size of my face.  The lesson here – be a good friend, and test out a recipe before you inflict any pain and suffering on your guests, and if you don’t – at least have the perfect wine for pairing.


May All of Your Pain be Champagne


Those that know me best know my drink of choice: bubbles.  Whether it’s cava, prosecco, or the real deal – I don’t discriminate, it’s all delicious.   A toast isn’t a toast without sparkling wine, and there is no other way to celebrate than by popping open some bubbles.  But a good glass of champagne doesn’t have to be reserved for a celebratory occasion, a champagne cocktail is a great drink after a long week,  and a sure fire way to look extra glamorous at happy hour!

A classic champagne cocktail includes a sugar cube, angostura bitters, your favorite sparkling wine, and a lemon twist.  However, you don’t always have to stick to the classics.  There are hundreds of cocktail variations out there, and here you’ll find my favorite:  The French 75!img_5579


  • 1 1/2 oz.  Gin  (I prefer Watershed Four Peel Gin  from Columbus, Ohio)
  • 3/4 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup (equal parts sugar and hot water)*
  • 3 oz. Champagne (or other sparkling wine)

Preparation:  Combine first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake it til your heart’s content.  Strain in a martini glass or champagne flute, and top
with your sparkling.  Garnish with a lemon peel or twist.

*To really up your 75 game – pick an herb to infuse into your simple syrup.  My favorite addition is sage, but basil or rosemary would be delightful depending on the season.  Simply combine the sugar and water together, then toss in the leaves before cooling.  




Is this thing on?

Is anyone reading this?  Is anyone going to read it?  It’s sort of a scary thing – starting a blog.  Perhaps I’m just sharing personal information on the internet that no one will read (except the NSA, of course.)  I am not very good at self-promotion, in fact I hate it.  Which is surprising because I’m the youngest child and my first sentence was practically “Look at me, pay attention to me!!!”  So – I’m not sure how good I’ll be at plugging the blog to ensure a reader or two.

Writing is my catharsis, so if no one read this, at least I’ve gotten it all out there.  So here’s a few things you (the reader – real or imaginary) can expect to see here:

  • Wine and Cocktail thoughts, stories, favorites
  • Recipe mishaps and victories
  • Party hosting tips, plans, suggestions, and/or things NOT to do
  • The occasional lunatic-inspired rant

Ciao Bellas!